ROME - Italy's entire political establishment is working together to avoid the collision between addressing the urgent social and economic problems that are engulfing the country, and the personal and judicial destiny of Silvio Berlusconi. Every time there is a political statement, and on the regular talk-show circuit, it is repeated over and over again: The two subjects are not related...
But this daily lie is getting us nowhere. The facts are that Berlusconi’s conviction for tax evasion was just upheld and now he is awaiting the court's verdict on his latest sex scandal case; and at the same time, he is calling for a complete reform of the Italian judiciary system. It’s not surprising that a passion for politics is ignited when the link between the two are brought up -- it’s insidious hypocrisy.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government pretends not to notice. They have to pretend not to notice. The days go by, the statements pile up, and the decisions are forced to wait. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take politicians too long to build up the courage and make changes. The social climate is getting progressively gloomier as the political news gets more and more depressing.
Yet for Berlusconi’s supporters, the most pressing problem is to denounce all attempts to oust il Cavaliere from politics. They imply that Silvio -- if only he could be freed from the grip of Milan magistrate Ida Boccassini -- is the only person who knows what to do for the country.
This implication risks paralyzing Italian politics. Letta’s government is just a guinea pig. The proof will be in the electoral reform: the majority "prize" in parliament will be lowered, but the parties’ control of who gets elected will stay the same. This is exactly what Berlusconi wants.
Given this perspective, the specific content of the accusations facing il Cavaliere will be reduced by his supporters as mere slander, without even waiting for the trial to go any further. The same goes for any future judicial processes -- and even for his lengthy trial history.
The battle is underway now and it is truly political. For Berlusconi, this government doesn’t need to achieve anything important; actually, the less they do, the more he and his party will thank them.
Berlusconi’s supporters move on two levels that are contradictory. On one side, they declare it intolerable, even offensive, that he could be criminally accused. But, on the other, they consider it completely irrelevant to policymaking.
How is it possible to put these two things together? For a pro-Berlusconi voter, what counts now is cutting taxes -- Silvio's eternal promise -- and maybe even a harder stance against Angela Merkel and Europe. With regard to all of this, Berlusconi's behavior and private life are considered irrelevant.
In reality, Berlusconismo currently balances two forces: his influence on concrete politics, and an open distrust and provocation against the magistrature. In this current climate, and with talk of a “judicial reform,” we have the equivalent of wielding a political bludgeon.
This dynamic simply makes it impossible to construct a future common policy among the current major political forces joined in a broad coalition. Sure: we’re waiting for them to take urgent, concrete measures together. But, honestly, who really believes that anything could be introduced gradually and for the long run? A new cycle of political “normality”? No way.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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